Postcard of the month - #256 - January 2022

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Library and Museum, Whitechapel

The Library was founded by the late Victorian philanthropist John Passmore Edwards (1823 - 1911) and opened in 1891. It earned itself the nickname: 'the university of the Ghetto' - being at the hub of the Jewish east end, and providing an education for such notable names as Jacob Bronowski, Arnold Wesker and Isaac Rosenburg. A blue plaque to the memory of Isaac Rosenburg can be found at the old entrance to the library.

The Museum was set up soon after it opened on the second floor with a vast collection of weapons and exotica from overseas donated by the local philanthropoist, the Rev Dan Greatorex (1829-1901) as a gesture of his life-long interest in the local populace's education . The museum closed in 1953, with some of the artifacts ending up in the Horniman Museum, but much of it had mysteriously dissappeared - Greatorex's memory along with it.

In 1900, it was reported that as many as 3,000 local people were packing the reading rooms, hungry for knowledge from newspapers and books they lacked in their own homes. The libray became synonymous with local history and it's working-class struggles and yearnings, representing an ideal of self-improvement.

It's doors were open to all. Surviving the blitz and bombings of recent times, the library finally closed it's doors to the public in August 2005, it's place in the community being superseded by the new Whitechapel Idea Store further up the road.

Next door is the Whitechapel Art Gallery, built in 1898 on land purchased by Canon Barnet adjacent to the Whitechapel Library, with the belief that art 'would educate people so that they might realise the extent and the meaning of the past, the beauty of nature and the substance of hope'  This has been the gallery's strength throughout it's history, pioneering artist residencies in schools and educational establishments that have been modelled across the UK and abroad.

The former Library building survives today as part of a expansion project for the Whitechapel Art Gallery, providing more space and a new Archive Gallery and Repository - more information can be found on thier website:

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